Strange Interlude

Belvoir. Belvoir Theatre, Sydney. 8 Jun 2012

Simon Stone’s adaptation and production of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude is a stunning night of theatre.  Stone has achieved his aims of giving the play a contemporary feel while conveying the drama of the mixed loyalties and emotions of its characters by adding doses of unexpected comedy.  O’Neill won his second Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for this play and later the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936.

Designer Robert Cousins manifests the isolation of private hells by projecting the action onto the vacuum of a blank screen without horizon, beginning or end.  Only a few props or bits of furniture or set are used by the audience to fill a study with books, an airport with a crowd, a child’s room with toys, a rowing race with competition, or a lake with water.  This physical isolation parallels O’Neill’s device of soliloquy for emotional explanation.

One of the greatest female roles in theatre must be that of Nina Leeds, so exquisitely played with viciousness and resignation, determination and disappointment by Emily Barclay.  Her breakdowns were palpable.  Deep psychological rationale are imputed or even excogitated for Nina’s perambulations through 25 years of living that we can all relate to.  Nina’s antagonists are the men in her life who try, wish to or actually possess her temporarily.  They are a Chekhovian lot complete with a doctor, professor, writer and unrequited love.  All performances are deliciously realised to make you squirm and secretly squeal with delight.  Watching Toby Schmitz’s Ned Darrell’s pompous self-righteousness unravel was riveting.  Toby Truslove’s hapless Sam and wife to Nina was indeed pitiable yet endearing.  Truslove showed an uncanny ability to communicate his changed fortune evident in the boat race scene with nothing more than boorish behaviour.  Previously, director Simon Stone placed this love triangle in a dizzily fast-paced episode of revolving status replete with complex moral failings and humourous juxtaposition.  Mitchell Butel’s explosion from the previously subdued Uncle Charles was a comic high point.

Stone used copious devices to make even scene changes interesting, but who can beat an actually functioning shower with a somewhat dampened love scene.  Damien Cooper’s lighting and Stefan Gregory’s soundscape were mood-altering additions.

This Strange Interlude was a superbly crafted production with outstanding performances.  Bravo!     

David Grybowski

When: 5 May to 17 Jun
Where: Belviour Theatre, Sydney
Bookings: belvoir.com.au